10 Research Backed Ideas to make you Consistently Productive

How to be Consistent in your Productivity?

There are times when I feel totally Productive. My Productivity is in top form. Great ideas emerge from nowhere. My writing is effortless. Words tumble out of my keyboard like Popcorns popping out of a primed oven, in a consistent manner.   I pleasantly surprise myself by breaking my previous records in writing faster, smarter and better.  I call it my Zone or flow state.

But here’s the full disclosure. I don’t get to enjoy the Flow state frequently. There are times when my Productivity dips, I tend to lose focus, tune out, and the quality of my work suffers. Have you ever encountered this?

How do you get into a state of consistent productivity? The state in which regardless of your situation, you are able to repeat your Peak Productivity with minimal efforts? How to churn out quality work with optimal efforts?

Here are some interesting Research backed insights, that can lead you to consistent productivity

1. Insert Short Breaks throughout your work

Breaks aren’t something that you should feel guilty about. In fact, You should really feel great about them.

When you get to a point in work, where your productivity starts to plateau, take a break and leave the place.

Just as our body’s muscles grow by periods of work out followed by periods of rest, our brain’s “muscles” grow stronger by interspersing periods of rest when you work.  It is not only human but a clever way to improve your productivity.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian psychologist. He was the first to recognize and name the psychological concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. He is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Management at Claremont Graduate University.

Over the course of 50 years, he interviewed hundreds of people — geniuses and experts from diverse domains, inventors, innovative artists, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. Csikszentmihalyi observed that creative geniuses performed a routine. He wrote this  book Creativity Flow and Psychology of Discovery and Invention

He summarized that the brightest minds followed this process:

  • Immersion: Where they totally engaged in their work with deep, unremitting focus
  • Incubation: They had a period of rest and recovery when they are not at all thinking about their work
  • Insight: They had the occurrence of “aha” or “eureka” moments—when they experienced breakthrough ideas and growth in thinking

Remember the 3 Is (Immerse, Incubate, and Insight). Follow it Consistently.

2. Setup your Environment to Support your Goals

Humans have a basic instinct to have a safe habitat. Your surroundings have a profound impact on your behavior. This is especially true when you are fatigued.

You get fatigued when you resist temptation or make tough decisions or work on challenging tasks. However, your environment can provide you a helping hand and help you sustain your Productivity.

There are several experiments and research studies that have established a clear link between your work environment and productivity.

A Harvard Study proved that Office workers had significantly improved cognitive function scores when working in Green environments compared to working in a Conventional environment.

It proved that increasing the supply of outdoor air lowers exposures to not only CO2 and VOCs but also to other indoor contaminants.

Even if you can’t afford a Green Building, create “a place of your own” in which you do your most important work.

You can redesign your workspace by yourself. Rearrange your Bookshelf, unclutter your work area, get rid of cables and wires, hang an inspirational picture, infuse an indoor plant etc.

In short, surround yourself with objects that invite your desired behaviors. Consistently work in that same place, using the same materials. Over time, your environment will enhance your productivity on a deep neurological level.

3. Embrace Struggle

When you begin to face struggle, the instinct is to withdraw or to seek help. However, Struggle is necessary to acquire skills. Research has conclusively proved that the most learning happens (neural connections strengthen) when you struggle.  Seek support only after you have struggled.

Observe the Csikszentmihalyi’s conceptual tool.  It plots the Skill level against the Challenge level.

Flow Model Csikszentmihalyi's
Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Model

It’s easy to interpret this continuum. When your skill is low, and the challenge level is low, you couldn’t care less. That is when you get to the Apathy state (see the left-hand side bottom). On the other extreme of the continuum, when your skill is high, and your challenge is also high, that’s when you get into the flow state (see the right-hand top corner of the image). And in between, there are these 7 other states.

But how do you go from a lower state to a flow state? If you look for a quantum leap to Flow State, it is not going to happen.

Here’s the recommended approach.

Just take up a challenge that is slightly outside your current skill level, and deal with it. As you get better in your skills, take the game to the next level. You will eventually reach the Flow State.

4. Avoid Multi-tasking

When you multitask, your brain either constantly switches between tasks or tries to divide and conquer.  That allocates only a portion of your cognitive capacity to a specific task.  As a result, the quality and even the quantity of your work suffers. Countless studies have shown this,

Deep Work is one of the greatest differentiators between extraordinary and ordinary quality.

As Cal Newport writes in his NY Times bestseller Deep Work, in this competitive global economic situation, the only ticket to success is Deep Work.

Always do one thing. Give your everything to it. Get away from notifications, alerts, and social media. Turn them off. Put your phone in Airplane mode. Immerse yourself at work.

5. Work in Time-blocks or Chunks

Let us face it. We live in a Highly Distracted World. The attention span of the human kind is rapidly diminishing. The advent of Smart Phones, Tablets, Messengers and e-mails have given us, addiction levels comparable to or worse than Drugs.

Moreover, you are a human, not a Robot. You can’t work mindlessly, forever.  That will just harm you irreparably, and make you Counter Productive. How can you achieve balance?

Work in time slices or chunks. Use Pomodoro type of technique. As you improve your ability to work longer chunks, you can gradually increase the length of your chunks, but don’t exceed 2 hours in any case.

6. Practice Mindfulness Meditation

The benefits of Mindfulness meditation are immense. Mindfulness is just being completely present in the moment; fully aware of yourself and your surroundings.

Numerous research studies have proven that Mindfulness Meditation lowers Stress.

Research from Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, but also linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Think of it as a meditation as a highly specific training for being more present, at all times of your life. When you meditate, you are strengthening your mindful muscle. It’s a simple practice:

  • Sit in a comfortable position, ideally in a quiet space
  • Breathe deeply for a few breaths, in and out through your nose.
  • Allow your breath to settle back into its natural rhythm and focus on only the sensations of breathing.
  • Notice the rise and fall of your abdomen with each breath;
  • If thoughts arise, notice them, but then direct your focus back to the rhythm and sensation of your breath. You don’t have to feel guilty.
  • Set a timer so you don’t have to think about time. Start with just 1 minute and gradually increase the duration.

Brain studies are beginning to show the immense and measurable benefits of mindfulness meditation. Researchers are finding that starting at just a few minutes every day, mindfulness meditation increases gray matter in the part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex.

Developing your mindful muscle creates space for you to choose how you want to respond to stress. In the middle of a challenge, mindfulness helps you remain calm and collected

7. Sleep

We often overlook the importance of Sleep. Sleep is nature’s intentional gift to Humankind.

Research has also established the innumerable benefits of sleep. A study by Stanford in 2001, conclusively proved that Sleep improved athletic performance.  Sleep also is a critical factor in our body’s growth as well as the brain’s growth.

Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. For those doing intense physical activity, 10 hours is not too much. To promote Sleep, there are numerous techniques such as avoiding caffeine or alcohol, avoiding gadgets a few hours before sleep, opting for an early dinner etc.,

8. Prime it

Subtle influences matter. If your senses perceive it, your brain is processing it, even if you don’t recognize it. And this processing is rarely isolated. This processing has a clear bearing on how you stay during the rest of the day.

A study in a British university tested how images can prime us for certain behaviors. The experiment took place in an office kitchen which had an “honesty box” where staff could pay for the tea and coffee they consumed. On the wall was a suggested price list.

Above the price list, the researchers posted a new image each week for ten weeks, alternating between images of flowers and images of human eyes.

Over the ten-week period, the researchers found that when staff were primed by seeing eyes above the price list, they paid almost three times as much as when they saw flowers.

Warm up rituals:

That leads us to the power of Priming. You can Prime your mind every day. Develop certain warm-up rituals before you start working on your things. Just as you do warm-up exercises, to get your muscles ready, there are benefits to priming your mind prior to starting your productive work (such as problem solving or creative work).

Prime your mind with great quotes, great people, great music, great websites, great podcasts etc. This helps you with peak performance that you can sustain your Productivity.

On the other hand, if you prime your mind with negative things such as reading news first thing in the morning, you aren’t doing yourself a favor. Words such as kill, denounce, fight, die, soak are common in News Papers. In fact, that is what catches your attention. Your brain generates stress response because subconsciously you begin to feel threatened.

9. Reduce Decision Fatigue

Willpower is essential for Productivity. There are several theories of Willpower. But Research experiments have established that Willpower is drained by too many decisions. Willpower is a finite resource, and you can deplete that sooner through too many decisions.

There are 2 prime ways you can sustain your WillPower.

(a) Develop good habits

(b) Reduce the number of Decisions you make. You can automate and/or delegate and/or minimize and/or restrict your choices.

At the end of 2014, in Zuckerberg’s first-ever public Q&A session, the question that garnered the most attention was, “Why do you wear the same T-shirt every day?”

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,”

replied Zuckerberg, clarifying that he had “multiple same shirts.” He went on to explain that, when taken together, small decisions—like choosing what to wear—add up and can be quite tiring.

“I’m in this really lucky position, where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than a billion people. And I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life,” he said.

10. Know Thyself

Do you ever get the strange feeling like you’re on a different schedule than others around you? Maybe you’re always yawning when your friends are just getting ready to go out. Or no matter how many hours of sleep you get, you never really feel awake at work before noon.

When you work against your natural inner biological clock, you may get the feeling like that you’re permanently jet-lagged. But when you work with it, you can sleep better at night, feel more energized during the day, and unlock your hidden potential, says sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., in his book The Power of When.

Chronotype

Say hello to your chronotype, or your body’s biological clock. Here’s the link to the free quiz

https://thepowerofwhenquiz.com/

Chronotype influences: Breus maps out 50 different activities that fall under categories like health, sleep, food, work, money, fun, relationships, fitness, and creativity. Your chronotype plays a role in all areas.

  • Dolphins – Light sleepers, and tend to wake up at the slightest noise.
  • Lions – Naturally wake up early. In prehistoric times, these people would take the morning shift of guarding the group.
  • Bears – Their energy cycle that rises and falls with the sun. They’re most productive in daylight.
  • Wolves – naturally stay up later and sleep later. They’re just starting to drift off when Lions are waking up.

What can you do?

  • Determine your chronotype using the tools and suggestions.
  • Design your day accordingly—be intentional about when you schedule certain activities; match the demands of the activity with your energy level.
  • Determine and Protect the time during which you are most alert and use it for your most important work.
  • Schedule less demanding tasks during periods in which you are less alert.
  • Don’t fight fatigue! Instead, use this time for recovery and to generate creative ideas that you can act on during your next cycle of high energy and focus

I hope you enjoyed this Post, and that you resolve to try at least a few ideas. What are certain things you do to Sustain your Productivity? Please leave your comments.
Image Courtesy:
Matt Ragland

5 Replies to “10 Research Backed Ideas to make you Consistently Productive”

  1. Just a minor correction: the author of Deep Work is Cal Newport, not Charles Duhigg. Charles Duhigg wrote The Power of Habit. Both books are excellent. 🙂

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